Fun After Finals

You did it, Falcons!

The first semester is officially in the books tomorrow (Jan. 26), and we think you should go explore the Twin Cities and enjoy the unseasonably warm weather after studying hard for finals all week!

So here’s a list of some events going on around St. Paul and Minneapolis you should definitely check out!

St. Paul Winter Carnival | Downtown St. Paul

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Ice carving, automated snowplow competitions, ice skating, food, snow sculptures, and… ICE CASTLE! St. Paul’s Winter Carnival promises to be bigger and better than ever in its 132nd year, and there are nonstop events from Thursday (Jan. 25) evening and for the next 17 days! Most events are free.

Art Shanty Projects | Lake Harriet, Minneapolis

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Take a ride on The Thwing, snag some free coffee, and visit the Tomb of the Unknown Minnow. Confused? That’s because the Art Shanty Projects are something you have to see to believe! Head on over to south Minneapolis from 10am-4pm on weekends through February 11. Free.

U.S. Pond Hockey Championships | Lake Nokomis, Minneapolis

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If you’re more sporty than artsy, then you’ll want to head to a different lake in south Minneapolis and take in the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships. Teams from around the world make their way to Lake Nokomis to battle for the Golden Shovel this weekend. Free.

City of Lakes Loppet | Bde Maka Ska, Minneapolis

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If you haven’t noticed a theme here yet, basically if there’s a frozen lake, you’ll find Minnesotans on it. Taking place all weekend (and next) is the City of Lakes Loppet Festival, a celebration of all things cross country skiing, on Bde Maka Ska (formerly Lake Calhoun).  Be sure to check the website for the list of events. Most stuff is free.

Championship Cat Show | Roy Wilkins Auditorium, St. Paul

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Come see some #floofs, shop for cat things, and view some cat royalty in all their splendor at the Saintly City Club’s Annual Championship Cat Show in at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul. Tickets are $4, and the event runs from 9-5 on Saturday, January 27. More of a dog person? Good news! The Doggie Depot runs from 10am-1pm at Union Depot in St. Paul. You can chat with doggie experts, buy doggie trinkets, and see the Canine Royal Court. You can see the doggos for free.

Want to know more going on this weekend? Citypages.com is a great resource for everything happening in Minneapolis and St. Paul!

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Niche.com Ranks SPP a Top Private School in Minnesota

Just in time for the start of the school year, Niche.com, a website that ranks public and private schools, has named St. Paul Preparatory School the 15th best private school in the state of Minnesota out of 74 schools.

As a part of their ranking, St. Paul Prep was named the #1 school, public or private, for diversity in Minnesota. We also rated high in the academics and college prep categories.

Over the years, St. Paul Prep has scored and ranked highly by Niche.com. Thanks to all students, teachers, staff, and everyone else for making SPP a truly special place!

Check It Out: Minnesota State Fair

In America, fairs are as common as baseball and apple pie in summertime. There are town fairs, county fairs, state fairs…and then there’s the Minnesota State Fair.

Widely regarded as one of the best state fairs in America, the “Great Minnesota Get-Together” has transformed from an agricultural showcase in its inaugural run (in 1859), to the vast entertainment and eating event of the year that it is today.

If you’re new to the Land of 10,000 Lakes (and the U.S.), attending the state fair is a big ol’ helping of Minnesota (and American) culture. Here’s a list of some cannot-miss attractions (and foods, of course).

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Sweet Martha’s Cookies

Why have one when you can buy ’em by the bucket?! Martha has been making her sweet treats for over 30 years, and no trip to the fair is complete without a stop at Sweet Martha’s.

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Giant Slide

Debuting in 1968, the Giant Slide is a rite of passage for Minnesotans new and old. Don’t let the long line fool you: it goes fast.

ALL THE FOOD

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With 56 new items just this year, the state fair is a foodie’s dream (though it might be a nightmare on your wallet!) Plus, everything “on a stick” looks great on Instagram! From cheese curds to deep fried Oreos to mini donuts to sweet, crisp corn on the cob, if you can dream it, there’s probably some form of it at the fair. (Check out Andrew Zimmern’s list, too).

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Sky Ride

Avoid slow walkers and strollers: take a ride on the Sky Ride! This bird’s-eye-view of the fair has been in operation for 53 years now, and is the preferred choice for people watching on the midway.

Concerts

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From big-name Grandstand acts to free performances at the Bandshell, you can find music pretty much everywhere and at any time from now until Labor Day.

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Farm stuff

It wouldn’t be a fair without animals (specifically livestock), so make sure to check out the various barns for a chance at getting up-close and personal with Minnesota’s more furry friends. From sheep to snakes, draft horses to bunnies, there are all kinds of opportunities to see all types of creatures.

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All-things Minnesotan

From a giant tank of native fish to rubbing elbows with Minnesota’s members of Congress, if something is labeled as ‘Minnesotan’, there’s a good chance you can find it in some form at the fair.

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Whether you go for the food, animals, people-watching, or attractions, there is truly something for everyone at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. But hurry! The fair ends Labor Day (Sept. 4).

A Crisis At Home While Abroad

fullsizerender-8In my first blog post, I explained how I got to SPP and why I wanted to leave my city in Venezuela so badly; however, what I didn’t mention is why my parents wanted me to leave just as much as I did.

I would love to explain to you more in depth the roots of my nation’s issues, but as a person who deplores politics (probably because of my experience), I don’t feel like a have a voice in this matter; however, I can tell you what it was like living under such regime.

These past few years have been of profound crisis for my country; inflation increases daily -sometimes even 500% within a week. There’s scarcity of every product you can think of, and I dare to call it one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Luckily, my family has not been as heavily affected as other unfortunate families, but that doesn’t mean I can’t share the pain.

Years ago, I remember people being so happy you could always feel a kind and zealous vibe around, but these last two years specially, crisis reached its brink and people are simply miserable.

As inflation keeps rising, people don’t have any money of actual value to buy anything. You see them wandering in the streets looking for something to eat inside garbage bags, you see them desperately waiting for a mango to fall from its enormous tree, you see them starving to death. And when they can actually afford products, they form interminable lines under the 104 °F sun hitting right at you; all the wait so when they actually enter the supermarket everything is gone. Two years ago my mom picked me up at 3am from a party, and on my way home I still remember looking at hundreds, maybe thousands of people already lined up outside the market waiting for it to open the next day. “It is absurd,” I said to my mom, but then she replied, “Vale, in times of crisis and need people behave irrationally to find a way to survive.”

I guess she was right, but a lot of them also supported the government during the elections, so watching them lose their dignity caused me more anger than sadness.

But anyways, other than our economy, when we are not dying from starvation, we are getting killed in the streets. Human lives became so incredibly worthless for criminals; it is not good enough for them to just steal from you, they have the urge to also kill you.

My parents feared my stay in Venezuela; I was in too much danger so they sent me here, but that did not take any of my preoccupation away. Weeks ago my country became an official dictatorship, and our citizens have been protesting ever since, but it only makes me more and more psychotic about what will happen. What has been the beginning of May for me? I have nightmares that wake me up in the dawn at least once a week. I know that the impression I give at school is of a very happy and positive person, but that doesn’t mean I’m not being internally consumed.

I might be theoretically out of danger here in the U.S. but knowing that my family is still there, taking every risk I am avoiding, keeps me from evading the fear, anxiety, and pain anyway. Honestly, do you want to know why I came here? I was pushed away by the government from the most beautiful land and people I’ve ever seen who have now turned miserable and mediocre by the evil in power. The thing I hope the most right now is for the government to finally be overthrown by the protesters today and go back to my home tomorrow and happily read headlines in every newspaper “Millions of Venezuelans all around the world go back to their home land.”

A Step Forward

fullsizerender-8By current SPP student Valeria from Venezuela

Since 8th grade, I’ve been looking forward to graduation day; to finally step out of school and enter college; to study things I care about, and to surpass the limitations I was given in my previous schools. However, in senior year I felt different.

“You’re too immature, Valeria. Too immature, too young, and too dependent on your parents for you to leave to college,” a little voice whispered inside my head.

During the first two months of my stay in St. Paul, I was struck with the realization I was not prepared to enter this new phase of my life. It all started at the beginning of the first semester last fall. The story goes a little something like this:

I was clueless as to what university I wanted to go to, nostalgic of my family and culture, out of my elements in class, dispirited in my only A.P course, and consumed by preoccupation over standardized testing for colleges. The weight of my responsibilities kept sinking me to the bottom as I drowned on my own. I had never struggled in my life without having someone to make it better, as I grew up in a collectivist culture. For quite a while, I thought that I had lost that here, until one day as I sat alone studying for the SAT, one of my teachers took the initiative to help me out a little. Every day that I sat down with him, I sighed of relief; his sincere willingness to help me without receiving anything in return was heart-warming. His advice not only brought tranquility to my soul, but gave me strength to stay persistent. I was no longer alone.

In addition, later on Vicky came into my life. I had gone to our school counselor Ms. Hill several times, however what I wanted her to do for me would have required the use of too much of her time, considering that she had to guide 63 other seniors (some that might be even more lost than me in such a labyrinth).

Ms. Hill, being the consummate professional that she is, sensed I was lost at sea, and so she reined me in back to shore. She gave me a small, fairly mundane, contact card with the name “Vicky” sprawled in simple black lettering (little did I know the impact that small, mundane card would have on my college search). Vicky is a former SPP counselor and Advanced English Composition teacher who left her teaching job for a job as a lawyer; still, she spends her free time helping students in my situation.

I still had a sea of colleges to pick and choose from, and yet the question remained, where would I really fit in? Which one would have the best broadcast journalism program? Which one would have the biggest diversity of cultures? Which one this? Which one that? Which one? Vicky helped me figure all this out by making me form my own conclusions.

I had to re-start my college search, only this time with her there, over my shoulder guiding me. To be frank, I was irritated that I’d have to start the search process all over again from scratch, but looking back it was probably the best thing that I could have done. When I was on my own, I let my own bias for big name schools get in the way of what I was really looking for, and began to apply to colleges that offered a curriculum I did not even want or would not even be helpful for my desired career.

Can you imagine? Going to a college I don’t like, far away from my family and home (which was a sacrifice I guess I was willing to make) and coping with the stress of college life who knows how. I was well on my way to imploding because of how unprepared I was for college, the concept of adult independence was still new to me and I wouldn’t have an altruistic teacher to guide me anymore. Thanks to Vicky, all the self-destruction was spared.

Vicky also made me understand the one thing that kept on adding weight on my shoulders. This whole time, I had been looking for some sort of emotional shelter within my Host Family and I failed in my attempts. I told Vicky the story of how I couldn’t find emotional comfort with them, and she said, “Valeria, you cannot go to a hardware store and expect to buy raisins, you have to go to a grocery store for that. What you are looking for is something they might not be able to provide you with, because they are simply not used to it. There will be other people, like your teacher, that will make your experience unique and fascinating, leaving a mark in your heart.”

And she was right, I was looking in the wrong places. My Host Family had been great, but they were not the ones that would give me the affection and support I craved. Emotionally, the burden was off my back as I stopped making my Host Family into something they were not: my actual family or any Venezuelan. I finally understood I couldn’t force them to act like my culture does.

A month later, I was in Ashburn, Virginia spending Christmas with my family and finally finishing my college applications. All the stress was gone, but something was still aching. Was I really satisfied with my decisions?…I think I wasn’t.

I left my father’s family living in Ashburn for a few days to visit my mother’s sister in Washington D.C. Her name is Carmen Beatriz, but I always called her Aunty Triz. I hadn’t seen her in years because Venezuela’s situation forced her (along with many other relatives and friends) to leave me. We had a great time together, but the clock was ticking and it was time for me to go back to Ashburn.

As we were getting closer and closer to Ashburn, anxiety kept taking over me and when I had to say goodbye I shattered. That’s what had been bugging me this whole time. Ever since September all the way to that cold night in December, I realized I was unsatisfied because I will never be able to live in peace If I am away from the warm people I love and the culture that shaped every aspect of my personality. Although the Universities I applied to were the best options when it came to the education they would provide; wasn’t my personal happiness a huge factor to consider as well? I never thought about it because I did not think it was a thing that would bother me. I had always been a happy person, but I wasn’t in the culture that I’m from; the one that truly brings me internal peace and enamors me more each day of my existence.

That night was a massive paradox to me, I was broken and cured. It cleared my blurred vision and I realized what I’d wanted this whole time: great education near my family. What a better place for that than Colombia? The most similar country to Venezuela that offers me infinite opportunities and a near location to my precious home. Today, I see clearly what I want, and feel immensely grateful for my teacher, who will always have a place in my heart, Vicky, and my school SPP. Without them I would have made the wrong decisions and postponed my happiness and inner serenity. Moreover, SPP, its passionate staff, and my experience with them taught me how to manage my time, control stress, work hard independently, but most importantly prepare me for the next phase of my life.

Guest Blogger Aleksander: Off I Go, From Warsaw To St. Paul

 

Editor’s note: Aleksander is a former SPP student and currently attends university in his native land of Poland. He’ll be a temporary guest on the SPP Blog, offering his story and advice along the way. Read Aleksander’s Introduction here.

IMG_1513Deciding to pause your life in your homeland isn’t easy. Trust me – I have been through this. For some, having a fresh start is much desired; for some it’s not. For those who don’t want to start a new chapter in their life, I have only one cliche for you: get out of your comfort zone. Growth happens outside your comfort zone. If you’re worried that you won’t adapt to a new environment, think again. Humans have colonized nearly all of Earth (besides Antarctica, where there are no permanent human settlements).  

How did I come up with the idea to study in the United States?

Long story short: a representative of the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, came to my school once. He was talking about studying abroad in the U.S. I loved the idea right away, so I pulled my phone out of my pocket and texted my parents. The decision changed my life forever.

How did I prepare for my trip?

The preparations lasted for about five years. I wanted to leave the year after I learned about the possibility to study in the U.S., however, after some thought, it was not a smart idea. If I studied in the U.S. right away, I would most likely have to take the same classes all over again later on in Poland. The fire to study abroad slowly burned out as the years passed. Luckily, my parents didn’t give up that easily.

When I reached 11th grade (or as we say it in Poland, the second class of high school), my parents and I decided studying abroad my senior year would be the best idea. I chose the U.S. over other countries like Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. I looked for many different programs and schools, but one that caught my attention was a school in downtown Miami, Florida. Sounds perfect, right?

Well, not really.

At first, sure: all the hype about Miami is perhaps not false, but it would have been extremely hard to get a high school diploma for that school. That meant there was a possibility this would be a wasted academic year. Second of all, it is way too hot there for me. For all the people not familiar with Warsaw’s climate, temperatures range from -6 C to 24 C (sorry Americans, time to get on the same page as the rest of the world). Lastly, it was way out of my parents’ financial range.

Then I began checking out different schools in the Midwestern USA. I didn’t quite like what I saw: all of the schools were in the middle of nowhere. I am a big city guy.

At last, I found out about St. Paul Prep, which seemed like a perfect match for me. It does get reaaaally cold there (Minnesota), but I suppose it would be easier to adapt to the excessive cold than the excessive warmth. What’s also worth mentioning is that Minnesota is one of the “healthiest” states in the U.S. I also knew I would be able to get a high school diploma, and the price was okay, too.

Next step was getting a visa, but that was a rather straightforward process. The worst part about it was standing in line in front of the embassy. That’s it.

How was the flight to the U.S.?

The transatlantic flight could have been something pleasant, if not for my height (I’m 189cm. I did not have much leg room).

When I arrived in Mini-soda (speaking of soda: Minnesotans use the word “pop” in reference to sugary, carbonated beverages), it turned out that my baggage was missing. I had to give my address to a representative of the airline I was flying with, and my baggage was brought to me later that afternoon. Whew!

How were the first days in St. Paul?

I won’t lie to you: the first night might be really tough. You will realize that whether you like it or not, you’ll be studying in St. Paul, Minnesota, for 10 months (Of course, I still had a few opportunities to visit my family and my hometown throughout the year). Regardless, I was still feeling homesick. I even cried myself to sleep that night. But this sadness passes, I assure you! Try to stay occupied the first few weeks. Try to get used to another language being spoken everywhere. Try to leave all the stereotypes (fat Americans everywhere, shootings everywhere, etc) back home.

Since I was placed in a family close to downtown St. Paul, I went on a walk on the first day after my arrival. I was impressed with what the city looked like. I even went to visit SPP. My first impression? “Wow. I’m going to study here.”

The next day, pictures for IDs were taken. My first encounter with SPP stuff. Even before the start of my new adventure, I knew somebody from Poland. One of the best pieces of advice I can give: get to know somebody from your home country before you leave. I can’t stress enough how much easier things were, thanks to the fact I had known somebody before arriving at SPP.

How will I get to know other people at SPP?

Worry not. SPP organizes a camp, where you’ll get to make new friends and hang out with your new buddies. How was it? Sadly, “keine Ahnung”, as the Germans say. That’s because I missed the camp due to an illness.

In my next post, I will describe how awesome it is to study at SPP. Make sure to follow SPP’s social media pages to follow along!

Pozdrawiam,

Aleksander Jess (@AJWRSW)